He knew it wasn good when the police came to pick him up from Mikes in the middle of the night. Brandon was waiting in the back of the squad car when he was escorted from his buddys house still wearing his flannel pants and gray t-shirt.

”Hey. ” Brandons white chalky skin and sweat damp hair lent him the air of a man in the throes of a deep and prolonged illness, so different from the proud, athletic near- man hed been until a few months ago when hed changed.

At first the brooding withdrawal had only been visible in glimpses, masked by the otherwise good nature of a brother well liked by the majority of those in his class as well as on his hockey team. Steadily the sullen darkness had gained momentum until it had become Brandons prominent disposition.

Faced with this shadow of the brother hed regarded as a nearly invincible demi-god, Drew was more frightened by the shrunken shoulders and smell of fear marking him than the presence of the officers.

”Hey. ” He snuck a few guarded glances at the shaking figure beside him, terrified to ask and childishly hoping that by not saying anything he could somehow undo whatever awfulness had been done.

The popcorn in Drews stomach churned and he tasted the syrupy sweetness of the slushee he and Mike had so gladly ridden their bikes two miles to buy, thrilling at the lack of parental guidance only a few hours ago. The remnants of its blue raspberry flavor, sour in his throat, threatened to climb back up.

”Its Mom and Dad. ” Brandon was staring straight ahead. His eyes were unfocused, the words halting and flat.

”Why don we hold off on this conversation for now? ” The officer in the passenger seat, far too young for his paternal tone intervened, twisting around to give them both a stern appraisal. He nodded to himself after Drew murmured that he would and Brandon seemed to fold silently in on himself.

The other officer came around the back of the car to the drivers seat. Drew caught the spooked look that passed between the two in the brief flash of the dome light before the door closed. ”We
e taking you boys to the station, we can talk about it there. Your Moms sister is on her way from Tampa, shell be here by morning. ” The driver told them without turning around.

Drew scooted himself farther back into his seat sparing a sideways glance at his brother. Forgetting the weakness he saw now, he reached into his memory to find the one he sought. Drew mimicked the self-assured fold of his hands and the cocky set of his jaw. He could be strong like Brandon. Not this Brandon but the one hed seen break an arm taking a bike over a jump without a tear. Biting his lip, Drew managed to keep his eyes dry and the fear knotting his insides from running rampant for the remainder of the ride.

At the Peoria Police Department a salt and pepper woman in a plain gray suit and over the top sympathy that put Drew on edge sat them down and bought them sodas. Neither boy drank from his can, both cradled them instead as props. When she began to speak Drew tried to tune her out, listening instead to the determined fizzing of the carbonation against the thin aluminum sides. She spoke up, demanding his attention.

Sighing, Drew forced his gray eyes up to meet hers. The tortoiseshell frames and lenses of her glasses caught the light washing out the eyes themselves. Drew thought of


Peppermint Patttys sidekick Marcy from the old Peanuts cartoons. His family had never missed an annual showing of the Charles Shulz characters holiday specials. The knowledge of that ritual now feared lost brought tears prickling back to his eyes and Drew took a deep, shaking breath, holding it until he felt dizzy.

Her eyes flicked over to Brandon who had yet to acknowledge her. Frowning, she saw him as a lost cause and concentrated her attention on the younger brother.

”Theres been an incident Andrew. At your house this evening there was a break-in. As far as we can tell, the burglars didn know

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